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USCCA Highlights, Chapter 3

Chapter 3


The Saint:   Pope John XXIII


Blessed Pope John XXIII, who was pope from 1958-1963, listened to the Holy Spirit and tipped the Church upside down in the 1960s.  He was elected as a type of “safe pope”.  He was older, so the electing cardinals did not think he would do too much.  Calling a world-wide ecumenical council, the likes of which no one had seen since Trent, was not exactly what they had in mind.  Papa John thought the Church needed an updating, some “aggiornamento” or a phrase that meant he wanted to open the windows and let in some fresh air, and bring the church into the 20th century.  The most profound changes in centuries were inaugurated with this jovial pontiff with the second Vatican Council, which lasted from 1962-65.  We are currently celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, this “Year of Faith”.  Blessed John XXIII did not even live long enough to see the council finished, but he certainly launched it.  The liturgies went from Latin to the languages of the people; the priests turned around and faced the people; sacraments were renewed and revisited to demonstrate their communal character, decrees and documents were written about revelation and the church, ecumenism and interfaith relations, Christian education and religious liberty and the vocation of the lay baptized person.  It was a revolutionary move. 


The Teaching: Transmitting Revelation


In his address to the bishops in the opening session of the council, Pope John XXIII said: “Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”  To that end, he proposed five means of accomplishing that:

1) be filled with hope and not be prophets of gloom.  Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations,

2) discover ways of teaching the faith more effectively,

3) deepen the understanding of doctrine – use modern methods or research, esp. examining literary forms,

4) use the medicine of mercy;  the Church has acted harshly in the past; She needs to act with more mercy; She must proactively proclaim the Good News rather than denigrate others, and

5) seek unity within the Church of other Christian members, with other non-Christians and with all other men and women of good will.  Aim toward a unity of mankind where truth reigns, charity is the law and whose extent is eternity.


Blessed John XXIII illustrated how the Church constantly draws upon Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture to chart its course and that is the topic of the 3rd chapter of the USCCA.  In order to more effectively transmit God’s revelation, one needs to know: what is this Sacred Tradition? and how is Scripture to be interpreted?


Sacred Tradition is like the French word, histoire, meaning it is history, yes, but it also tells a story, a story of a people.  In Chapter 3 of the USCCA, the bishops recount the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus began to tell the disciples the meaning of all that had gone on in those last days.  Jesus was tracing the story line that led to the Good News.  This year, as we are reflecting on this chapter of the USCCA, it is near the end of November, and just at the beginning of the season of Advent.  We are getting ready to construct the Jesse Tree in our sanctuary, a symbolic tree that is to remind us of the story line of salvation.  All around the world, Jesse trees are going up to remind Christians that starting with God’s loving creation in the Garden of Eden, we have been blessed with forefathers and foremothers that have each added to the story.  From the first fall to the first promise of a Messiah, heroes and heroines have contributed to our Tradition.  Adam and Eve and Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Rebekah, Ruth and Judith, Solomon, Jesse and David, Rachel, Leah and Naomi and others have each added their piece of the story.  All have been models of faith.  They are our family tree.  The Holy Spirit or the Ruah, that moved over the waters in Genesis guided these men and women to help build the edifice of our faith.  After Messiah came in the person of Jesus, and he continued the story by passing on his messages to the Apostles, and they passed on their messages to the bishops, each began to add to the edifice of Tradition.  Numerous saints have been raised up in the Christian era. The Church values all those insights.  The unfolding of the story of salvation history (Tradition with a capital “T”) is a living thing and stands alongside the Sacred Scriptures to inform and construct our beliefs.     


When the bishops teach the message of salvation history, they do so with the authority that has been given to them by Jesus through the Apostles.  That is called the Magisterium of the Church, the teaching office and authority.  Not only the bishops, however, but the ordinary people also share in this mission.  The “rule of faith” or the “sense of faith,” sensus fidei, is the people’s ordinary magisterium.  We teach the faith by our living it.  Tradition with a capital “T” is the living transmission of the Gospel message of the Church.  The oral preaching of the Apostles and the written message of salvation (Bible) are conserved and handed on as the Deposit of Faith through Apostolic succession.


How are the Scriptures Interpreted?  The Church tells us the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are inerrant, meaning they cannot make a mistake in terms of faith and morals.  These Scriptures can be read two ways, either literally, in which they are studied and analyzed by scholars, or spiritually.  The spiritual approach can also be divided into three ways: allegorically, morally, or anagogically (the last referring to similarities in difference, e.g., comparing it to the eternal kingdom of God).  If literally, scholars are charged to uncover the deeper meanings of the text, but always under the judgment of the Magisterium.


Challenges of the American culture:


Living in a multi-cultural, multi-religious country, we often face two types of challenges to Biblical interpretation: either those who read them too literally (the fundamentalists) or those who read them through the lenses of historical reductionism, meaning they deny any supernatural dimension to them and simply approach them as interesting literature.   These folks would deny such concepts as the Incarnation, the Virgin birth, miracles, the Resurrection, and any intervention in human history by a God.  The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit inspired human authors to reveal God’s Self to the human race, and as such, the Bible is more than just a human work.  The bishops tell us it will always be a fountain of faith for those who read it in a spirit of prayer.


USCCA Reflection Question:


Read again Blessed John XXIII”s thoughts about sharing and spreading the faith in a more effective way.  How would they help you share your faith with others?  What is both consoling and challenging about the way God has chosen to transmit his revelation?


Doctrinal Statements:


1. Divine Revelation is transmitted through Tradition (with a capital “T”) and Sacred Scripture, which flow from the same Divine wellspring and work together in unity toward the same goal: to spread the Good News.

2. The teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium, has the task of authoritatively interpreting the Word of God, contained in Sacred Scripture and transmitted by Sacred Tradition.

3. God is the author of Sacred Scripture, inspiring the human authors, acting in and through them.  Thus God ensured that the authors taught divine and saving truth without error.




From Dei Verbum, or the Vatican II “Constitution on Divine Revelation”: 

We forcefully and specifically exhort all the Christian faithful…to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine scriptures…..Just as from constant attendance at the Eucharistic mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the Word of God, which “stands forever” (DV, 25-26).